A freelance journalist is facing charges after he was detained by Hamilton police while at the scene of a tragic traffic accident Tuesday night.
A 10-year-old girl was struck and killed just after 6:30 p.m. near Evans Road and Highway 5 in the Waterdown area. Police say the driver, a 25-year-old man, was heading southbound on Evans when the girl ran in front of his vehicle and was hit.
The girl was taken to hospital but later succumbed to her injuries.
During the course of the investigation, police detained Global TV cameraman Jeremy Cohn and freelance photographer David Ritchie who were on the scene covering the news at the time.
Hamilton police chief Eric Girt said during the scene management, there were “interactions” between police and members of the media which resulted in both men being detained. Cohn was subsequently released without charges while Ritchie was charged with obstruction of justice and resisting arrest.
“As Chief of Police, I take the arrest of any member of the media seriously,” Girt said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. “As a result, I am reviewing this incident in the context of what transpired [Tuesday].”
Lloyd Ferguson, the chair of the Hamilton Police Services Board, called it a “highly charged scene,” adding that the family of the child who was killed was present as well as the driver who hit her and it was “very emotional.”
“Very difficult scene for officers to try and take control of; they had a very difficult job,” Ferguson told CityNews.
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The Canadian Journalists for Free Expression issued a statement Wednesday, saying multiple eyewitness reports indicated “an extreme use of force by police in tackling Ritchie and Cohn to the ground.” They called on police to drop the charges while demanding an immediate public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the “forceful detention” of the two journalists.
“We further urge the Hamilton Police Service to consider instituting a force-wide media relations policy and train frontline staff on how to interact constructively with members of the press, and hope such an administrative process will give clarity about the crucial role journalists have in a democratic society,” the organization said in a statement.
Troy Reeb, senior vice president of News, Radio and Station Operations for Corus Entertainment Inc. — which owns Global TV — said the company is “deeply concerned” by Cohn’s treatment. He added the company would be following up directly with Hamilton police in the coming days.
Both Ritchie and Cohn received support online by other first responders who lauded their work and professionalism.